How To Prepare For The Best Career

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See how the right education could help you score one of the best careers in the country.

By Chris Kyle

CareerCast.com recently pored through 200 professions to rank the best for the year.

Looking at five key criteria - average salary, outlook, workplace conditions, stress, and physical demands - the resulting "The 10 Best Jobs For 2011" was published by Forbes in January.

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According to Forbes, the best careers for 2011 require "proficiency in science, math or technology and a college degree."

We've spotlighted seven careers that CareerCast.com included among its list of the best. Find out what preparation you need to help you land one of these careers.

Best Career #1 - Actuary

High earning potential and low stress helped distinguish actuaries, who happen to know a thing or two about analysis, from the 200 careers that CareerCast.com analyzed.

Preparation: In addition to passing an actuarial exam, actuaries need a bachelor's degree in an area like mathematics, statistics, accounting, or finance.

Average Pay: $87,204*

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Related Career - Accountant
Preparation: Bachelor's in Accounting
Average Pay: $67,430*

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Best Career #2 - Software Engineer

Forbes mentions that the advent of cloud computing and the newfound popularity of cellphone apps have created a wealth of employment opportunities for software engineers, who rose to the top of CareerCast.com's best jobs ranking. High earning potential is another perk enjoyed by software engineers.

Preparation: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most software engineers have a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or mathematics.

Average Pay: $87,140*

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Related Career - Computer Programmer
Preparation: Bachelor's in Programming & Software
Average Pay: $74,690*

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Best Career #3 - Computer Systems Analyst

Knowing how to operate a company's computer systems is one of the most valuable skills you can have in today's economy, not to mention tomorrow's. In addition to a bright career outlook, many computer systems analysts enjoy perks like telecommuting.

Preparation: Most computer systems analysts have a bachelor's degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems, according to the Department of Labor.

Average Pay: $77,153*

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Related Career - Network Systems Analyst
Preparation: Bachelor's in IT & Information Systems
Average Pay: $76,560*

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Best Career #4 - Statistician

Crunching numbers, determining numerical patterns, and predicting future results are all part of a statistician's typical responsibilities, which could result in high earning potential and a comfortable workplace.

Preparation:At a minimum, you need a bachelor's degree in mathematics and statistics, according to the Department of Labor, but many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.

Average Pay: $73,208*

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Related Career - Financial Analyst
Preparation: Bachelor's in Finance
Average Pay: $85,240*

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Best Career #5 - Dental Hygienist

A huge surge in career opportunities is a big reason why dental hygienists are among CareerCast.com's Best Jobs for 2011. It's a career you could begin with an associate's degree and nearly half of hygienists work flexible or part-time schedules, according to the Department of Labor.

Preparation: Enrolling in a dental hygiene program, could help prepare you for this career and help you learn what you need to know to pass your state licensing exam.

Average Pay: $67,107*

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Related Career - Dental Assistant
Preparation: Associate's in Dental Assisting
Average Pay: $34,000*

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Best Career #6 - Biologist

It's no surprise that CareerCast.com named biologist as one of its "Best Jobs" for the year. The booming biotech industry has created a huge demand for biologists. They study the circle of life and often get rewarded handsomely for it. Employment is expected to grow 21 percent through 2018, according to the Department of Labor.

Preparation: While some research positions require only a bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry, many higher-level positions go to candidates with a Ph.D.

Average Pay: $74,278*

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Related Career - Forensics Scientist
Preparation: Associate's in Forensics/Crime Scene
Average Pay: $55,070*

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Best Career #7 - Mathematician

It's difficult to find an older occupation than mathematics, and it's only getting better with age. With an average salary of $94,000, mathematicians crunch numbers and devise helpful formulas in every industry imaginable. The opportunity to potentially transition into teaching at just about any level is another perk.

Preparation: To reach the peak of your career, you'll likely need a Ph.D. in mathematics, although a bachelor's degree could help you gain an entry-level mathematics position, according to the Department of Labor. Getting certified to teach math is another possibility, but getting a bachelor's degree is a great first step. Most teaching certificate programs can be completed in as little as one year.

Average Pay: $94,178*

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Related Career - Financial Manager
Preparation: Master's of Business Administration
Average Pay: $113,730*

[Search for Business and Finance programs]

Best career average pay comes from Forbes, while related career pay info comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, using 2009 median salary data.

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